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A Guide to Understanding Autoimmune Diseases

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A Guide to Understanding Autoimmune Diseases

December 27, 2023

Did you know that sometimes your body can attack itself? You read that correctly. When the immune system overreacts it can mistakenly attack and damage your body’s tissues. This is what’s known as an autoimmune disorder. An estimated 24 million people in the United States, or about 1 in every 15, are affected by autoimmune diseases. Doctors have discovered more than 100 types of autoimmune diseases. Below is our guide to understanding autoimmune diseases:

What Are Autoimmune Diseases?

doctor checks for thyroid issues

The immune system is what protects us from disease and infection. When it recognizes pathogens, it builds specific cells to target and fend off these foreign cells. When compromised by an autoimmune disease, the immune system misidentifies parts of the body as foreign invaders, releasing antibodies that attack the healthy cells.

This misfiring of the immune system happens when it can’t tell the difference between foreign cells and regular cells. It’s not entirely clear what causes this to happen but a number of factors are at play. Autoimmune diseases can attack all sorts of tissues and organs in the body.

Common Autoimmune Diseases

diabetic

Some of the most common autoimmune diseases are:

- Type 1 Diabetes: Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks cells in the pancreas. The pancreas is responsible for producing insulin hormone which is used to regulate blood sugar levels. When this occurs, the immune system destroys the pancreas cells that produce insulin.

- Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA): With this autoimmune disorder, the immune system attacks the joints. This can lead to symptoms such as swelling, inflammation, soreness, stiffness and warmth. When left untreated, RA can lead to permanent joint damage.

- Multiple Sclerosis (MS): Multiple sclerosis occurs when the immune system damages the protective coating that surrounds nerve cells, or the myelin sheath, in the central nervous system. This damage impedes the transmission of messages sent between the brain, spinal cord and the rest of your body. It can cause numbness, weakness and trouble with walking and balance.

- Lupus: Patients with lupus produce autoimmune antibodies that attach to tissues throughout the body. It most commonly attacks the joints, lungs, kidneys, nerves and other areas. An estimated 1 million people in the United States suffer from lupus.

How We Treat Autoimmune Diseases

medicines

There are no so-called “cures” for autoimmune diseases but we rely on treatments to help control the immune system response and manage symptoms as best as possible. Specific treatments depend on your disease and symptoms. Here are some common ways we treat autoimmune diseases:

- Medication: Corticosteroids are often used as the first treatment for autoimmune diseases as they are quick and effective at lessening the overactive response of the immune system. These drugs work by slowing down the immune system, but that can come with negative side effects. Anti-inflammatory drugs can help to ease pain.

- Lifestyle Changes: Changes in personal habits are often recommended to combat the effects of autoimmune diseases. Exercise or physical therapy is particularly beneficial for autoimmune diseases that affect the muscles such as MS and myositis. Those battling disorders that target the blood vessels would be well served to stop smoking.

- Supplements: Supplements are often used to replace important compounds that the body is lacking like thyroid hormone, vitamin B12 or insulin. This can help to lessen negative symptoms that occur from autoimmune diseases and provide support for your system.

You’re all up to speed on everything to know about autoimmune diseases. For autoimmune diseases related to the thyroid, we often treat them with compounded medications! Learn more about compounded thyroid medications here!

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